Jakarta, Sep 29 Rescue workers were hunting for survivors on Saturday after earthquakes, including a powerful 7.5 magnitude tremor, and tsunami struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, killing at least 385 people. The death toll was expected to rise amid continuing aftershocks, officials said.
Multiple quakes were followed by a tsunami on Friday that swept away thousands of houses, hospitals, hotels, shopping centres and buildings in the region. Video on social media showed people screaming and fleeing in panic for safety.
Three hundred and eighty five people died in the city of Palu, where preparations for a beach festival had been underway when the tsunami struck. National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said that 540 people were injured and 29 were still missing, CNN reported.
“We have found corpses from the earthquake as well as bodies swept up by the tsunami,” Sutopo said, adding that the government was set to declare a state of emergency and stressed that the most important task was to restore power and communications to the region.
Officials were unable to make contact with Donggala, a fishing community near Palu that was also reported to have been hit by the tsunami. The disasters cut off roads and forced the airport in Palu to be closed, officials said.
The worst-affected Palu and Donggala are home to more than 600,000 people.
Telecommunications and air transport experts arrived at the airport earlier on Saturday and work to repair some of the damaged electrical equipment had started. However, airports in Poso, Tolitoli, Luwuk and Mamuju were open.
Elsewhere also, most of communication facilities remained cut off due to electricity outage, hindering coordination and dissemination of information about the catastrophic situation, authorities said.
Sutopo said that survivors and the injured people were in need of aid including fast food, baby food, medicines, tents and blankets. More rescuers and heavy machinery were needed to help in the ongoing search operation.
He said the Indonesian military had dispatched personnel and aircraft for the relief efforts. “TNI (armed force) has deployed troops to help in handling the risks of these quakes and tsunami in Palu and Donggala. The force has sent about 700 personnel and two Hercules planes,” Sutopo said.
In addition, a military super puma helicopter carrying portable navigation devices flew to the scene.
Authorities estimated the tsunami’s waves to be about 10 feet high, but a video reported to have been taken in Palu showed a wave that seemed even higher crashing over the roofs of one-storey buildings. TV footage showed dozens of injured people being treated outside in makeshift medical tents.
The 7.5 earthquake hit just off central Sulawesi at a depth of 10 km on Friday, the US Geological Survey said. A tsunami warning was issued, but lifted within the hour.
Earlier, multiple quakes had hit the same region that killed one person and damaged buildings.
The disaster followed on from the earthquakes and aftershocks on Lombok island where 557 people died and nearly 400,000 were displaced between July 29 and August 19.
The country’s deadliest earthquake with a magnitude of around 9.1 struck off the tip of Sumatra island in 2014, triggering a tsunami that killed nearly 280,000 people in Indonesia and other Indian Ocean nations.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of great seismic and volcanic activity, where some 7,000 earthquakes, mostly moderate, are recorded each year.